Security best practices have shifted — and too many organizations missed the memo.

The widespread adoption of cloud computing and remote work arrangements have rendered a traditional, perimeter-based security approach obsolete. A company’s applications and data are no longer confined within the four walls of a data center, allowing users and devices to join your network from anywhere, at any time.

A more distributed environment demands a new security posture. To effectively mitigate risk, security must be embedded in every layer of your tech stack rather than being applied from outside. But few companies have faced up to this reality, leaving themselves vulnerable to new threats. In 2020 alone, U.S. organizations were hit with 650,000 ransomware attacks — more than one every 10 minutes — as bad actors took advantage of security gaps. 

Delaying the evolution of your organization’s security is a big mistake. As your organization scales, so does the magnitude of the security threats you face. Larger companies have a larger footprint to defend and more to lose if those defenses fail. To avoid costly growing pains, the time to start planning a modern security strategy is today.

Why compliance isn’t enough

Why are so many companies lagging behind in addressing these new risks? Too often, it’s because company leaders aren’t able to keep up with the changing threat landscape. This is often a result of one of the biggest security challenges organizations face today: a massive talent gap. Almost two-thirds (64%) of cybersecurity professionals report staffing shortages at their organizations. Without access to adequate security talent, leaders lack visibility into how the security environment has changed and what threats they face.

As a result, organizations tend to fall back on ticking the boxes for compliance with their industry’s security and data privacy standards rather than figuring out what it takes to actually secure their tech infrastructure. Don’t get me wrong: Compliance with rules and regulations like HIPAA and PCI is important. But compliance on its own won’t mitigate the impact of a ransomware attack or help you recover from one after you’ve been hit. 

Five steps to a scalable security posture 

Instead of applying one-size-fits-all standards, you need to develop a security strategy tailored to your organization’s unique infrastructure, workflows and business priorities. This task is complex, especially if your organization lacks sufficient in-house security staff. But that’s no reason to put it off. Evolving your security only gets more difficult the larger you grow, and the more entrenched your previous security practices become.

Prioritize what you protect. No security solution, no matter how robust, will make your organization 100% secure. Instead, your goal should be to manage your risk — and optimize your resources — by focusing on the data and systems that are most vital to your business. For example, a healthcare company might prioritize protecting sensitive patient data, while a manufacturer might be more concerned with defending physical infrastructure, like its production lines.

Research industry-specific threats. Once you’ve identified the most valuable parts of your business, learn how they’re most likely to be threatened. Read breach reports and follow threat and vulnerability feeds to understand which attack vectors are most common in your industry. Then, you can tailor your approach accordingly. Most attacks use a common set of entry points and tactics to expand their reach and destroy or steal data. If you keep up with the research, it’s possible to ward off common threats. Usually, only large corporations are proactive in this way, but companies of all sizes can benefit from trying to stop attacks before they happen.

Understand how data flows across your applications. Security isn’t just about identifying external threats. It’s also about understanding your internal network. Actively monitor the data flowing through your systems so you understand which resources are being used for which tasks. Make sure you can identify users and devices accurately, using tools like behavioral analytics as well as traditional authentication methods. Having this type of visibility makes it easier to implement identity-based protections that remain effective wherever your data, applications, devices and users happen to be at a given time.

Apply the principle of least privilege. The principle of least privilege means restricting users’ systems access to the bare minimum necessary to do their jobs. For example, an HR employee at a healthcare company may need access to employee payroll information, but they shouldn’t be able to see patients’ medical charts. By limiting users’ access to sensitive data and applications, the principle of least privilege limits the damage if and when an employee account is compromised. 

Educate employees. One of the biggest risk factors for security is still human error. Just one employee clicking a bad link can have disastrous consequences: Over a third of data breaches (36%) in 2020 began with phishing. While it won’t be sufficient to prevent incidents on its own, teaching employees to have good security hygiene and identify common threats can bolster your other security efforts.

A security strategy that grows with you

Evolving your security posture can feel overwhelming, especially at organizations without adequate cybersecurity talent. But don’t put off leveling up your security maturity. Careful research and analysis can help you prioritize areas of concern and design a strategy that significantly mitigates your company’s risk.